85% of SF's drug arrests happen in the Tenderloin. Police explain why

ByKen Miguel and Phil Matier KGO logo
Friday, February 4, 2022
85% of SF's drug arrests happen in the Tenderloin. Police explain why
San Francisco's Tenderloin continues to struggle with sex, drugs, violence and homelessness. Police explain what's being done to address these issues.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Once known for its vibrant nightlife and gay culture, San Francisco's legendary Tenderloin neighborhood has devolved in recent years into one of the city's worse neighborhoods for crime, drug dealing and homelessness.

It's so bad that Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency last month in an effort to clean things up in the area, saying it was time to end the "B.S." attitudes that she said are fueling the problem.

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But in our effort to Build a Better Bay Area - we ask - can this really turn the neighborhood around?

ABC7 News is embarking on a year-long project to tell the stories of the people who live and work in the Tenderloin. ABC7 Insider Phil Matier kicks off this project with a one on one with the Police Captain Chris Channing, who oversees the area and who sees the good and the bad daily.

But first some perspective.

The Tenderloin covers 50 blocks of downtown San Francisco - it is home to many of the best things the city offers - high-end shopping, theaters, and nightlife but there is a dark side to this slice of town and it falls on the local police district to keep it in check.

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For a while, the Tenderloin has been the center of vice since the 1906 earthquake and fire is also a neighborhood with a lot of children.

The situation is so bad that police are actually escorting children home. from school.

Cpt. Canning said the goal is to not only get there safely but also build a relationship - and trust - with local cops.

So, what has the Captain seen in this neighborhood in the past year?

Cpt. Canning: I would say mental health challenges seem to be extremely challenging here. Addiction-related issues. There is a legal drug market that's very well known that is concentrated within this district.

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What is it about the Tenderloin that is so attractive for drug dealing?

Cpt. Canning: That is the question and has a variety of complex and complicated responses, depending on who you talk to. This district is responsible for I'd say, between 85, roughly 85% of our narcotics enforcement in San Francisco.

Phil Matier: 85% of the arrests happen here in this 50 block area?

Cpt. Canning: Yes, it's a very small, tiny area, historically, and I can say this, my father was an officer here in the 80s. I lived in a district where there have been some very historical challenges.

Phil Matier: Well, the neighborhood, okay, it's a marketplace for drugs. When the sun goes down. The sales start really in earnest. How many are coming from outside the neighborhood to buy here? How many are coming from out of town to buy here?

Cpt. Canning: "From what we can discern from, identification of the suspects? There are quite a few that come here from out of town if someone is arrested here for selling fentanyl.

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And what is the average jail time served by someone arrested for dealing fentanyl?

Cpt. Canning: The average time in jail for the repeat offenders was between four and five days.

Phil Matier: Five days?

Cpt. Canning: Yes.

Phil Matier: How many overdoses did you have in this area?

Cpt. Canning: Last year, around 700. Overdose deaths is at 700.

Phil Matier: So what does that do? Having a neighborhood like this? What does it do for the people here?

Capt. Canning: What is very, very vexing and difficult for any community, particularly this one is the human toll that comes along with what the consequences of what these drugs do to people. I think, medically speaking, folks that are suffering from addiction-related issues they suffer here on the street. I myself, walk to most of my meetings, it's not uncommon for me to walk across an overdose, I carry Narcan with me, it is not uncommon for me to have to perform life-saving measures, CPR, Narcan deployments. And I know that's just sort of individual experience of mine. But the impact that that has on the community is, is noticeable. There is a significant number of children that live here in the district, I think, on average about 3,000 kids, I hear from their families, their parents in the school regularly petition. What can we do? We've got kids walking to school with their parents stepping through people that are overdosing on drugs. And it's not fair.

Phil Matier: You have all the help centers here, you have St. Anthony's, you have Glide Memorial, this is the place where parolees are released. This is the place where the welfare hotels are, where the parking lots for the tents are, all of that's here, and the city's decision to put it here and keep it here. So are you going to ever get out of this situation, when everybody here is going to stay here?

Cpt. Canning: You know, there's no question that the folks that are receiving those services require some special training and require some special attention. And there's always going to be a need, I think to engage.

So is the Tenderloin ever going to change?

Cpt. Canning: You know, when I think of the Tenderloin, I can't think of a more dynamic and better neighborhood. And I could say that as not only someone who is working here, but someone who has lived here. I think that this neighborhood is probably one of the very special neighborhoods in San Francisco that has something to offer everybody. Absolutely. I think as long as we are bringing in different components of the neighborhood together, to work on addressing issues and understanding that there is no silver bullet.

Phil Matier: Do you think things are getting better?

Cpt. Canning: I find that there are more coordinated efforts that are occurring on a regular basis at the line level. I'm very optimistic about that. This is going to take a lot of effort and a lot of resources to sustain these engagements to make a difference.

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